Four years ago, Luke Mellon was a football player. A freshman at Verrado High School, Mellon was working out and spending the summer training as an offensive lineman.
In an effort to build muscle and keep his players in tip-top shape, a Verrado football coach advised his players to spend the summer in the weight room. They would begin some powerlifting program, he said.
“I fell in love with it,” Mellon said.
Fast forward to now, Mellon, who just graduated from Verrado in May, is no longer a football player. In fact, he hasn’t strapped on a football helmet or pads in two years.
Mellon is now a powerlifter, fully committed to the sport which was sparked by a seamless instruction from a football coach. And in the fall, he’ll further his career at Missouri Valley College, where he received a scholarship to join the powerlifting team.
“I’m crazy excited,” he said.
How Mellon and the coaching staff at Missouri Valley became familiar with one another perfectly encapsulates how the recruiting front has evolved in recent years, step by step with the rise of social media.
Mellon had posted a series of photos and videos from his week at the high school nationals in Louisiana in April — in which he took fourth place — on Instagram. It was a pretty innocent post, he said, meant to update his friends in the powerlifting community on how he fared at the tournament.
Several weeks later, he received an Instagram notification. It was a pending message from the head coach at Missouri Valley.
The plea was simple: “We’re looking for athletes of your caliber. Come join our team.”
Mellon toyed with the idea. He had never heard of Missouri Valley College. He really didn’t even know powerlifting in college was an option, just something he’d further pursue as he studied at Estrella Mountain Community College or Arizona State University this fall.
But, he decided to make the trip anyway. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to check out what was being offered to him, at the least.
“I decided I wanted to see the school,” he said. “And it was all through Instagram, which is kind of crazy.
“After meeting the coaches and some of the guys on the team and seeing and hearing about what they want to do — it’s going to be fun to be a part of something. I liked that it was a smaller school. They hit the nail on the head on everything and I really liked it. I was like, ‘OK, I want to go for it.’”
Soon after, he officially put pen to paper, pledging his commitment to the Vikings.
As exciting as this is, perhaps it’s even sweeter that he had no idea, not even a hint of it, that any of this was possible. He always enjoyed weightlifting. He did it frequently during football workouts. But to do it competitively and focus solely on growing stronger was intriguing, he said.
As soon as they began that innocuous summer powerlifting regime four years ago, he became hooked.
“The community around powerlifting is great, especially in Arizona because it’s a big, growing community. Everybody knows everybody; everybody hangs out with each other,” he said.
“Everybody is cheering for everybody — no matter who it is. You see them put weight on the bar, you see them get stuck and everybody is cheering for them. I love the aspect of it all and the community of it all. It was something I felt passionate about.”
For as physically demanding as a sport that powerlifting is, Mellon is on a tight lifting schedule. Nowadays, he’s lifting four days a week. Another day is devoted just to cardio, a light day designed to stay in peak shape. Only two days are considered “off days.”
Not much will change when he gets to college. He expects his coaching staff to make slight tweaks to his program, possibly adding in another day of lifting, but nothing too drastic.
And given how powerlifting is set up, there is no designed “offseason.” Powerlifters are constantly training, their eyes always aimed on an upcoming tournament.
When he arrives at Missouri Valley — scheduled for some time in late August — he’ll begin training for two big meets: the Raw Nationals and Collegiate Nationals.
“You really pick and choose what works best for you,” he said. “You have to build a schedule pretty far ahead of time.”
At the Louisiana nationals event, Mellon squatted 606 pounds, benched 270 and deadlifted 551. His college commitment made him the first powerlifting scholarship recipient in the state.
And, according to his mother Heidi, Mellon is the third generation in the family to receive an athletic scholarship. His grandfather played basketball at Illinois State, while his uncle played basketball at North Dakota State.
Outside of the two major tournaments Mellon is already fixated on, where he wants this sport to take him is to be determined.
“The goal,” he said, “is to get on the international stage and go to an international powerlifting meet. It’s a huge thing; very hard to do. That’d be a pretty crazy experience.”
Regardless, the fact that, four years after initially trying the sport, Mellon is revolving his future around it makes him euphoric. Who knew this could happen and unfold the way it did?
“I didn’t even know this was a thing, to be honest, until a couple months ago. I didn’t know powerlifting could be considered a varsity sport at school; I didn’t know you could get a scholarship for it. I didn’t know that was a possibility.
“Four years ago, if you would’ve told me this would be a thing, I would have had no idea that I could’ve achieved this.”